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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bandwidth Starved Satellite Imagery Providers Could Bring Data to the Ground Via Lasers

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Commercial satellite imagery firms launch new constellations to take frequent, high-resolution video and photographs of the Earth to improve decision-making for agricultural, environmental, humanitarian, commercial and national security issues. Increased accessibility of images and data from space provide views of the Earth that help optimize tasks ranging from planting crops to shaping traffic patterns on land and sea. However, these satellites generate volumes of data that are clogging transmission links as the information is sent to Earth. Existing radio frequency spectrum used to transmit information from space to users on the ground is already crowded; with companies planning to launch thousands of new satellites over the next five years, users may face frustratingly long waits for data that make it difficult to take full advantage of the possibilities that these constellations offer. 

Laser technology can remove barriers by carrying larger volumes of data from space to the ground at high speeds. However, the problem still is not solved unless imagery is quickly sorted and sent to appropriate users. The imagery also needs to be processed to help those users spot relevant trends.   

Draper is contributing expertise in parallel processing, image data base analysis, and pattern recognition to address these issues as BridgeSat, Inc. develops a constellation of laser-linked communications satellites, enabling the system to deliver massive amounts of data in a fast, cost-effective manner.

“Laser communications will open the door to a variety of new sources of data that the U.S. government and businesses use to make critical decisions in a timely manner,” said Séamus Tuohy, Draper’s director of space systems. “Draper’s experience developing data handling and processing systems for U.S. government customers can help ensure that users quickly receive their data and can make sense of it.”

Draper applies an open architecture approach to data handling and processing that is less expensive than custom solutions. The company works with government customers who receive massive data streams that may require hundreds of thousands of computers working together to route and process the information, and will work with BridgeSat to apply this method to the laser-delivered imagery.

BridgeSat is licensing laser technologies from The Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research and development center based in El Segundo, Calif., for the satellites that are as safe for humans as looking up in the sky and spotting a star.

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